BERKLEY — Angie Church received two of the best surprises of her life in the span of just two weeks.
The first came when the Berkley High School teacher attended a staff meeting after school and was greeted by a crowd that included dozens of her co-workers and friends, as well as her parents, husband and 5-year-old twin daughters. The congregation had gathered to announce that she had been selected as BHS’ nomination for the 2013 Oakland County Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year award through Oakland Schools.
“That was such a big, wonderful surprise,” Church said. “I was in tears; I just couldn’t believe it.”
The second mind-blowing moment occurred on the morning of March 26, when officials from Oakland Schools and administrators from the Berkley School District knocked on her classroom door to declare that she had won the award, as well as to present her with a giant check for $2,000 from the Oakland Schools Education Foundation.
“I got kind of a double surprise, and I was totally blown away,” Church said. “It’s a very rare thing to be recognized in such a positive way as an educator. You definitely don’t become a teacher for the recognition, but it’s so amazing when it does happen. This has all been so overwhelming — I’m still on cloud nine about the whole thing.”
Church, a Berkley resident, was raised by parents who both worked as teachers and who became her role models for a life devoted to educating children. She began her teaching career in 1998 and has been teaching social studies at Berkley High School for the past 13 years. She currently teaches ninth-grade U.S. history but, in the past, has also taught government and economics classes.
For Church, the most worthwhile parts of her job are those exciting occasions when she knows that she has really connected with a student.
“In the classroom, there’s just so much potential for different things that can happen at any given moment,” she said. “The energy of my students really inspires me. Learning can be really hard, so when you have one of those lightbulb moments with a student, it’s so exhilarating to know that you’ve made a real impact on them.”
According to BHS principal Randy Gawel, nominating Church for the Oakland Schools award was a no-brainer. He praised her “fantastic all-around teaching skills,” particularly her understanding of how to work with students, parents and colleagues; her exemplary knowledge of the classroom material; and her ability to connect with kids on a deeper level.
“Angie has all of those great qualities in spades, so to me, this award was not a surprise,” Gawel said. “She truly has no weaknesses as a teacher, but yet she goes to great lengths to always be improving. She has full classes every year because she really cares about her students and develops great relationships with them. I always think about, ‘Would I want my own kids to have this teacher?’ With Angie, the answer is definitely yes.”
When Gawel learned that Church had won the award, he saw it as validation for all her years of hard work and dedication to her craft. “We just feel really lucky to have her,” he said. “We’ve always known that Angie is a superstar, and now everyone else in Oakland County knows it, too.”
According to Danelle Gittus, communication services manager for Oakland Schools, there are three teaching awards given out every year by the county: one each at the elementary school, middle school and high school levels. Each of Oakland County’s 28 public school districts can only submit one nominee per category, however. Church was selected from a pool of 18 high school candidates by a committee made up of education and community representatives.
All nominees are evaluated according to six criteria: engaging students, meeting the individual needs of students, demonstrating knowledge of their subject area, showcasing classroom management, relating to parents and colleagues, and exhibiting citizenship and leadership in the school community. The Oakland Schools committee also considers support statements from colleagues, parents and students when making their decision.
“A lot of the quotes in Angie’s packet complimented her on how well she communicates with students and her great personality,” Gittus said. “People were really impressed with her open and warm demeanor and her encouraging attitude. I had the pleasure of meeting her on Tuesday (March 26), and she was such a lovely and charming person.”
But what will she do with that $2,000 check that she received? Church is still deciding whether she wants to buy herself a new computer or take a trip to Nashville with her husband to indulge her love of country music.
“Right now, it’s basically a toss-up between the practical choice and the big, fun splurge,” she said with a laugh.
Church is still in awe that she was chosen above all other high school teachers in Oakland County, and for that, she credits the kindness and generosity of those she works with every day.
“I’ve just been floored by this whole experience,” she said. “I only won this award because some amazing people were willing to say some really nice things about me. There’s nothing in it for them to do that, but that really just speaks to the type of school district and community that we have. I just feel so lucky to be a part of it — I feel like Berkley Schools are truly a diamond in the rough.”
For more information, go to www.oakland.k12.mi.us and click on “Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year,” or call (248) 209-2181.
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